Endurance horse deaths prompt review

The deaths of two horses involved in a national endurance riding competition have sparked a review by the country's governing body for equestrian sports.

One horse died during the Endurance National Championships near Turangi last year and another shortly after.

Equestrian Sport New Zealand (ESNZ) said the 13-year-old bay gelding Twynham El Omar was euthanased towards the end of the championship's 160km race, having failed the second-to-last veterinary inspection.

The horse had represented New Zealand at the 2010 world equestrian games in Kentucky.

Another horse, 8-year-old gelding Miro Astair, failed the last horse inspection and was taken to a nearby equine vet before being taken home.

He died from complications several days later.

Auckland-based endurance rider Keith McLeod said the sport was very well-managed and last year's event was an anomaly.

"Horses take years of conditioning to get to that distance, with lots of graduate steps along the way.

"You can't just jump in and do 160km. And even then they do it in five to six loops with a 40 to 60 minute hold in between.

"[In that time] they're thoroughly vet-checked for gut sounds, lameness, heart-rate, anything.

"If anything is not right they're vetted out.

"There was something funny at nationals last year, a number of horses tied up [had muscle seizures].

"I had a horse that tied up after 5km in the 60km ride. Horses that were fit ... things were happening to them."

ESNZ chief executive Jim Ellis said a confidential report commissioned after the deaths cleared the event's organisers and the horses' owners of any wrongdoing.

However it highlighted the fact that the rules around it investigating a horse's death were "lacking".

"ESNZ gives horse welfare the highest priority in all that we do.

"But the nature of the sport, especially eventing, means injuries to horses and riders do occur," he told the Sunday Star Times.

"The current rules do not insist that ESNZ investigates a horse's death. So that is what we are looking to change – to mandate the organisation to fully investigate any death and to implement any recommendations that will improve horse safety."

Horses dying at a competition was unusual but not unheard of.

Last year a horse died during the cross-country phase of a three-day-eventing championship in Taupo and, in November, Canadian Olympic gold winner Hickstead, 15, collapsed and died as he left a show jumping arena in Italy.

A month later top Australian dressage horse Northern Hector, 16, collapsed and died at a dressage festival in Werribee.

Sunday Star Times